Production of Turkish TV dramas has resumed at a steady pace undeterred by coronavirus concerns and, though the hand of censorship is being felt, shows are getting edgier.
While the pandemic forced production to grind to a halt in March, by September almost all producers had started shooting again in Turkey, though “roughly 80% of them have run into some problems with COVID-19 on their teams,” says Ahmet Ziyalar, president and COO of sales and production company Inter Medya.
Inter Medya is close to wrapping the shoot of “Respect” (“Saygi”) a series it is making for Turkish streaming platform BluTV in which the protagonist, played by Nejat Işler (“Winter Sleep”), “is a sociopath obsessed with the idea of respect,” according to the synopsis.
Ziyalar says increasingly Turkish dramas are being made for streamers, which means episodes are getting shorter — 50 minutes, whereas for linear TV the local norm is 90 minutes or more — and storylines are snappier and edgier.
Netflix, which dominates the Turkish OTT landscape, in July cancelled production of its Turkish original “If Only” due to government censorship of a gay character in the script. But that has not stopped Netflix from going forward with at least five other Turkish originals now in various stages, including “Hot Skull,” which according to promotional materials is set “in a world shaken by an epidemic of madness that spreads through language and speech.” It’s another sign that Turkish TV is no longer relegated to the classic telenovela realm.
Amazon Prime Video will soon be entering the Turkish market and plans are under way for a new local streamer being launched by Turkish media mogul Acun Ilicali.
But the growth of streaming platforms does not mean Turkish dramas produced for linear broadcasters are becoming any less important, both for the home crowd and in terms of exports.
“Audiences aren’t necessarily getting used to shorter episodes,” says Fredrik af Malmborg, managing director of Eccho Rights, which has a slew of Turkish shows in production.
Eccho is selling “The Red Room” (each episode runs 95 minutes), which launched to stellar ratings on terrestrial channel TV8 in September. It’s centered on a psychotherapist’s office in Istanbul where women talk about traumas caused by domestic violence such as battery and rape. Thus “very different from typical Turkish TV fare,” he notes.
As is another recent local hit, “A Miracle,” the Turkish adaptation of “The Good Doctor,” the global hit about a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome. “A Miracle,” which aired on Fox Turkey, is being sold by Madd Entertainment.
Due to the pandemic demand for Turkish content around the world is higher than ever and new opportunities are opening up for Turkish dramas in European primetime slots.
Malmborg is proud that this summer, Fox Turkey’s “Woman,” in which a young widow with two children contends with poverty and other obstacles, became the first Turkish drama to air in primetime in Spain, on Antena 3, where it scored stellar ratings.
Similarly, Eccho’s Turkish drama “Sisterhood,” about three women who discover they are siblings, will play in primetime in Italy on Mediaset’s Canale 5 flagship station. And hit Turkish rom com “Daydreamer,” which is sold by Global Agency, is already scoring stellar ratings on Mediaset.
Global Agency recently picked up world rights to hot serial killer skein “Aleph,” directed by Turkish auteur Emin Alper (“Frenzy”). It made a splash on pay-TV channel FX Turkey and streamer BluTV.
So just as many other countries have halted productions due to the pandemic or put other, possible pricier, content acquisitions on hold, as advertising intakes shrink, Turkish dramas continue to draw greater numbers of eyeballs around the world.